Thursday, May 04, 2006

Uncle Godfrey RIP

Uncle Godfrey was a timeless part of my childhood Christmases. After the set daytime ritual of visits to various relatives around the village (pressies, sherry, family banter), at around five o’clock we’d walk from The Green (first from School Lane, then from Church Farm, then from Mulberry Cottage) up Frog Lane to Aunty Iris and Uncle Jack’s handsome farmhouse. In the early days, there would be, in addition to Aunty Iris and Uncle Jack, my paternal grandparents Phillip and Olive, and Iris’ mother Mrs Maund, a perfect Grandmother figure with little round glasses and a warm smile. Iris’ children Andrew and Jackie would be in the main living room by a roasting fire. There would be the inevitable James Bond flick on a large tv in the corner.

After festive banter lubricated with sherry or beer, we would eat jacket potatoes and salad and sausages and pork pie, polished off with a trifle. After dinner, we’d move down the hallway to the back living room (past the separating door with the atmospheric stain glass window and the old servant bells), where another fire would be glowing the room with warmth. The back living room was a more formal space, dominated by a huge and elaborate bar cum dresser, all rococo carvings and dark wood and a huge solemn mirror. Uncle Jack would sit nearest the fire, stoking and turning and feeding the flames with the occasional new log, comfortable in his agricultural girth. Granddad, Godfrey and Jack would reminisce about people from the village, and quickly modulate into a rural village brogue probably unique to Wheaton Aston. After a while, Uncle Godfrey would bring out his slide projector, the lights would be turned out and we would sit and listen to his slide show. We were treated to photos from his latest travels (most of the time in New Zealand) – flower gardens in Napier, road trips to distant beaches, rugged coastline shots. I recall one embarrassing moment: a shot of a woman draped over Godrey’s car. He fumbled to click the projector around one more slot. There was always a small sense of loss when the show was over.

After the slides, the cards would come out and we would sit around the table. This was when Uncle Godfrey came into his own. He would lead us through Manchester Rummy using two packs of cards; an absorbingly enjoyable game which went through an elaborate sequence of stages – round one would be the first to get a run of 3 and four of the same (eg, 3,4,5 of Hearts as well as four aces). This game would last at least a couple of hours. And then, when the grandfather clock struck midnight, Uncle Godfrey would say what he always said, ‘Now we are the furthest its possible to be from Christmas Day.’

As the years passed, Mrs Maund passed away, as did Uncle Jack, as did my Grandparents. As I hit my twenties and came back home for Christmas, it would be my sister Victoria, Mom and Dad, Iris, Andrew, Jackie (plus boyfriend Andy) and Uncle Godfrey. We would follow the same sequence of events: first the front living room with 007, then food, then move to cards in the back living room. And we would play Manchester Rummy. And Uncle Godfrey would remind us that we are yet again a full 355 days, 23 hours and 59 minutes away from Christmas Day.

Outside of all those Christmases, we saw Uncle Godfrey occasionally: a Sunday dinner at Church Farm, a wedding or a funeral. I would also see him riding his bike from place to place in the village. He was a man at one with nature: he could tell how old a hedge was by looking at it (something to do with the number of plants intertwined within a space of yards). It’s impossible to have an image of him other than that of a calm and gentle face. When I became self-conscious in my adolescence and fussed about my hair, he gave me a great tip: don’t use brylcream, use rape seed oil. I tried using the oil for a while – it made my hair look jet black and shiny, but it was difficult to avoid it staining one’s clothes (or the pillow). Yet Uncle Godfrey carried it off with great effect: with his trademark slick and wavy hair.

He must have carried many memories of times beyond imagination. Uncle Godfrey had been touched by the lighthouse sweep of history: he’d lain injured in a ditch for three days in Normandy towards the end of the war. Fortunately, the Germans didn’t find him. He went back several times with other veterans to revisit the fields were tragedies’ blood had irrigated the fields with sorrow.

Above all, he was a sweet and gentle man. A man of the fields and of the place that bore him, my village of Wheaton Aston. The evening before he died, he was doing the crossword, his mind still curious and active, at the age of 87. He went gently into the night. Rest in peace Uncle Godfrey: 1919-2006.


nigeria, what's new 12:09 pm  

What is success? To be remembered as thus; "he was a sweet and gentle man" .

Chxta 12:46 pm  

May he Rest In Peace

culturalmiscellany 12:47 pm  

That short but loving obituary has reminded me of similar childhood christmasses. Village life never held its appeal for me, hence I moved to 'the smoke' as my grandparents would call London, but there is something wonderful England's villages, the images they bring and the memories they hold.

Akin 3:01 pm  

What a loving tribute to your Uncle Godfrey; good memories and fine times - they ensure that those departed are never forgotten and forever cherished.

Uncanny as it may seem, Wheaton Aston is just 11 miles NW of Walsall where I was born and even closer to Bloxwich where my foster parents lived.

I have not been back to Walsall in about 10 years now - it is a small world, after all.

Nkem 4:10 pm  

"Reflection is a collection of memories" from Memories Live by Reflection Eternal. Fine tribute.

j 4:13 pm  

farewell to a wonderful man

uknaija 12:56 pm  

My condolences

the flying monkeys 3:05 pm  

sorry to read about your loss at a time you are battling weight loss and weakness etc

this is a real challenge that I hope will make you tougher

perhaps its time to return to your family in the uk, for a short break and some normalcy

but I wonder what your uncle's view on Nigeria was considering the time he was born? what did he think of Africans?

Anyway I found this article relating to Shokpono, one of the yoruba Myths and Legends onTIME

Smallpox Apotheosized
Jul. 2, 1923
Dr. Oguntola Shapara, Nigerian physician, was decorated by King George. Dr. Shapara discovered an African secret society which worshipped smallpox as a fetish. The members spread the disease as part of their rites, making it impossible for the health officials of Nigeria to stamp out the plague. Dr. Shapara was initiated into the society and took part in its secret ritual in order to learn how to combat it. With this knowledge the Government of the colony was able to abolish the clan and to control smallpox.

the flying monkeys 3:13 pm,10987,716006,00.html

Sherry,  7:00 pm  

I knew 'Uncle Godfrey' as 'Joe'. He was indeed a very special man and I consider myself very privileged to have known him for the last sixteen years of his life - although I was aware of him long before. My grandmother occasionally spoke of the wonderful man my mother had almost married - Joe Riley.
My mother and Joe were childhood sweethearts and were engaged to be married during the war. As you mentioned Joe was very badly wounded - on Sword Beach, in fact, on D Day. Sadly for them both they did not marry after the war - family responsibilities separated them. Joe never married. Mom did but I always sensed that her memories of Joe remained a treasured part of her earlier life.
My grandmother - wise woman - kept in touch with Joe and after my dad's death n 1987 Joe and Mom renewed their friendship and their deep love for each other blossomed again - and it was clear for all to see. My mom has had the happiest years of her life enjoying (as Joe said) their 'autumn years'as Joe's companion. Theirs was, indeed,a rare and very special story of enduring love.

Anonymous,  11:46 pm  

@ Sherry, what an awesome love story!! What will be, will be. RIP Uncle Godfrey...

Miss YQ 6:57 pm  

My condolences on your loss. Lovely tribute.

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